I’ve been pruning my CD library this week. I used to think of my music collection as my dowry, and still feel that way about my vinyl — a medium with size and substance, to say nothing of history, on its side. But compact discs? Bah. I suspected they had a short shelf life when they were first introduced, and my fears have only been substantiated. Unless I absolutely love a disc, it doesn’t stay on my shelves anymore. A CD that never gets played, no matter how critically lauded, is just a drink coaster. And I don’t need more coasters. I don’t need any, really. I’m not fancy.
As I was vigorously purging, I stumbled across a disc I couldn’t remember ever playing. Embarrassingly enough, this is not an uncommon coincidence; between promotional items and impulse buys, there are a fair number of records cluttering up my office whose contents are unknown to me. But this one bore a copyright of 1999. What had I been lugging around with me that long, and why?
The name of the band, writ large on the jacket, is Gramme. Less prominent was the title, Pre Release. And upon close inspection, and spying the label — DJ/producer Trevor Jackson’s cool but sporadic Output — I remembered why I owned it: Five or six years ago, when the whole post-punk trend kicked in, a UK music rag mentioned that Gramme were the lost cornerstone of this trend. That LCD Soundsystem, the Rapture, et al owed them a huge debt. So I sought out a copy of their six-song EP (they also issued a 1997 single, “Mine”). But years later, I hadn’t gotten round to listening to it yet. Oh well, better late than never.
From the sound of it, I could just as easily have been toting around Pre Release since the early ’80s (if my tastes had been so cool at the time). Their five-piece lineup boasts two bassists — including band leader Luke Hannam — giving their grooves low-end oomph in the tradition of Leeds ensemble Delta 5, who shared a similar set-up. Vocalist Samme Lynham warbles in one of those creepy, little-girl-misbehaving voices that recalls Ari Up of the Slits or Neneh Cherry circa Rip Rig + Panic. On “Like U,” her delivery is offset by what sound like a rusty coronet being played underwater; other cuts, like the strung out “Telephone Me,” feature a bed of ambient noise reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire’s primitive tape loops.
Jackson, who records under the moniker Playgroup, is credited with production (as “The Underdog”) all over this EP, but that isn’t hard to pick out. Pre Release sounds like an early sketch for the crew of wimpy guys and tough chicks making dance floor-friendly, tension-filled post-punk on the 2001 self-titled Playgroup full-length — an album I consider as important as Massive Attack’s Blue Lines when it comes to dictating dance music fashion.
Pre Release is still in print, and according to their MySpace page, Gramme are even playing out again. If you are the sort of individual who considers Jah Wobble, not Johnny Lydon, the most important member of Public Image Ltd., and are more likely to squander your mortgage payment on an old 99 Records single than anything issued by Rough Trade, you should check out Pre Release. Personally, I’m completely smitten. Now I just need to find it on vinyl.